The saying “it’s a small world” has become more significant with our increasing reliance on the internet and platforms, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and others. While the tradition of building relationships is still a cornerstone of business and professional development, the means for making those connections are evolving.

A network is a two-way relationship

At its worst, networking can be made into a superficial task of racking up contacts on LinkedIn or collecting the most business cards at an event. The real value of networking is in building relationships and developing a community (or communities) of people willing to help each other.

A healthy network is a living entity that thrives on meaningful engagement and the exchange of ideas, opportunities, and information.

Whether you’re new to networking or adept at building relationships, dread the thought of meeting new people or thrive on making connections – here are a few ideas for you.

Be clear on your personal brand

This is about how you present yourself to the external world.

Your story is built on where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going. The way you articulate your story is more than just a timeline. It can provide important tacit information and cues about how you make decisions, your level of ambition and, most importantly, what makes you unique.

Tell your story

The way you articulate your story is more than just a timeline. It can provide important unspoken information and cues about how you make decisions, your level of ambition and, most importantly, what makes you unique. Consider your journey, your goals, and the direction you’re moving in. What are the key themes that arise, and what are the key messages you want to share with your network? Get clear on your strengths, values, and the contribution you make to the world. This will help to tell a clear and succinct story about who you are and what you are asking from your network.

Don’t feel you have to have everything figured out but do aim to have a starting point for how you introduce yourself.

Be aware of your digital footprint

Choose to take an active role in your online brand. Take the time to update your LinkedIn profile, and other social media sites, and make sure the content you are putting out into the virtual world tells a consistent story with the brand you’re trying to demonstrate to potential employers and clients.

Engage and expand your network

There are several ways to do this. Whether you approach networking in a strategic, deliberate way, or through curiosity and exploration, exciting opportunities can arise when you put yourself out there.

Share and connect

Networking can be helpful to gain new information, take advantage of job opportunities, create new clients, and generating new ideas.

Whatever your intention, practice sharing your story with others and making new connections. Online or in person, there are several ways to build your network.

  • Share content write a LinkedIn article. Tweet about the work you are doing or questions you’re thinking about. Sound scary? Start by sharing interesting articles by authors you admire or on topics that excite you. Get in the habit of sharing.
  • Reach out to interesting people don’t connect with people for the sake of it. Use your online resources to identify potential people who you find inspiring or have mutual interests. Reach out and ask to connect.
  • Keep it casual catch up with friends or reconnect with former colleagues. Talk about what you are doing, your ideas and what types of opportunities you’re looking for. Informal conversations can be as, if not more, effective than formal meetings for generating strong network contacts.
  • Don’t limit yourself to online sign up for conferences, meetups, internal networks within your organisation and events. Make the most of alumni associations, interest groups and personal networks. Focus on the things you enjoy rather than what you think you “should” be doing.

Step out of your comfort zone

The key is to exercise your whole network alongside actively pursuing new connections. Remain open-minded as you never know what a connection may lead to.e someone in your extended network with a useful connection, so it’s important to go beyond the people you know well. The key is to exercise your whole network alongside actively pursuing new connections. Remain open-minded as you never know what a connection may lead to.

Asking to connect with someone you’ve never met or offering your services to a new contact can be intimidating. Not only is it ok to make a (reasonable) request, it’s also part of the exchange process – although sometimes it can be a bit scary.

Start by making a small but specific request – advice on a particular question, time for a brief chat, willingness to share ideas or contacts. This may include asking someone you know to make an introduction to someone in their network. This approach increases your chances of a new opportunity, and it also improves your credibility to have someone who is willing to vouch for you.

Build lasting relationships

This part is about being authentic and taking the time to get to know people who have mutual interests and those with whom you can learn and grow from. 

Be human

It’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing networking in the transactional sense. This can come over as being mechanical and inauthentic and can make others feel like they are being used. Be yourself, and remember to treat others with courtesy, kindness, and humanity.

Play the long game

Focus on the quality of the relationships you develop and try to keep in touch with people over time. Your network will continue to mature as you move through your career. Those who were once classmates may be business owners and world leaders one day. Don’t underestimate the value and richness of building meaningful relationships with people of all levels and disciplines.

Pay it forward

You don’t need to wait for someone to do something for you. Be generous. Networking is an ongoing process of sharing. Offer to help others to make connections in your network. Share your time and information with others. Giving is a powerful tool. It helps improve the strength of your network and generate reciprocity.

Final thoughts

This article is part of a collection about “what it means to be successful” for women.

Networking is about connecting with the right people, and don’t forget it is a two way relationship – so get networking…you can enjoy it!